Dozens of Williamstown and Lee property owners have already inquired about a state-sponsored solar energy program prior to formally hearing this week how it can help them save on electric bills.

Officials of Solarize Mass have scheduled informational meetings in both communities to explain how residents can benefit from solar arrays installed on roofs or at ground level.

Today's meeting in Lee is 7 p.m. at Lee Middle and High School, followed by Tuesday's gathering in the Williamstown Elementary School auditorium, also at 7 p.m.

Five weeks ago, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, along with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, selected Williamstown and Lee among the 10 Massachusetts communities to participate in the next round of Solarize Mass. MassCEC, which coordinates the program, plans another round to accommodate eight to 10 more for the fall.

Since the announcement on April 5, some 30 to 40 Williamstown residents have expressed interest in solar energy, according to Jake Laughner, the town's Solarize Mass coordinator.

"We're getting an early buzz on this having already taken information from interested people," Laughner said.

"I already have 15 people who gave me their contact information to give to the contractor," added Roger Scheurer, Lee's Solarize Mass coordinator.

Lee and Williamstown officials, assisted by MassCEC, say they are on the verge of each community choosing their own contractor under Solarize Mass. Home and small-business owners in communities currently taking part in Solarize Mass have until Sept. 30 to enroll in the program.


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Under the two-year-old program, homeowners can buy a photovoltaic system outright from a state-approved installer, lease the solar panels, or have the company own and maintain the panels, with the electricity generated being sold to the homeowner at a rate lower than a utility's charge.

At the request of home and business owners, the companies do a site assessment -- free of charge -- to determine the solar compatibility of the properties and, if so, offer several financing options to pay for the solar projects.

Since Solarize Mass debuted two years ago, Pittsfield, Lenox and the 19 other municipalities that participated in the program have doubled their solar energy output, according Alicia Barton, CEO of MassCEC.

"We have driven down the cost of individual systems by doing this community-wide effort," she said.

A pilot program in 2011, Solarize Mass was expanded last year, leading to 803 private-property owners in 17 Massachusetts cities and towns -- including 58 homes and businesses in Pittsfield and Lenox combined -- to sign contracts with installers by early November.

Once all the solar arrays have been mounted on roofs or on the ground, they will generate 5,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity statewide. About 9 percent of that will be derived from solar arrays in Pittsfield and Lenox, according to MassCEC.

While state energy officials are looking for Solarize Mass in 2013 to top last year's figures, the program's ultimate goal through the solar site assessment and accompanying energy audit is making communities more aware of energy conservation.

"This is an absolutely cost-free opportunity for homeowners to get specific information about their property," Barton said. "An energy audit will address other ways to reduce energy consumption."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.

If you go ...

Officials with Solarize Mass will hold informational meetings this week in the Berkshire towns currently participating in the state-sponsored solar energy program.

• In Lee, at 7 tonight, Lee Middle and High School auditorium, 300 Greylock St. For more information call 413-281-3771 or online at www.SolarizeLee@scheurer.us

• In Williamstown, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Williamstown Elementary School auditorium, 115 Church St. For more information call 413-441-2150 or online at www.Solarize@Williamstown.net